Well, it finally happened.
Thought you’d get a kick out of this – back in 2009
when I was doing the “Kettlebell Secrets” interview
series – someone asked me when I was going to get
Here it is.
Thought you’d find this entertaining – and of course
educational – especially the “waviness of loads” thing
for fat loss…
My good friend and fellow KB instructor, Chris Lopez
from KettlebellWorkouts.com grilled me.
Pay attention to the part about the bodybuilder near
the end – really amazing stuff. (Yes, I know you’re
not a bodybuilder, but it proves a valuable point.)
I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve taken the liberty
of including the whole interview in this email
so you don’t have to click through and get distracted –
And I’ve done it “magazine style” – so no short
paragraphs like this.
Chris Lopez: I’ve had the pleasure of really getting to know Geoff Neupert over the past 3-4 years first as an acquaintance, then as a coach & mentor in strength and now, proudly, as a friend.
Geoff is THE guy that I turn to when it comes to questions with my training and program writing. He’s a wealth of knowledge that has seen and done everything in this fitness and strength & conditioning industry.
Geoff, I first heard the term “Captain Complex” at the LAST RKC 2 that Pavel taught where you were there as the Assistant Chief Instructor. Now everyone in the kettlebell world refers to you as Captain Complex. Why? Where’d that name come from?
Geoff: Thanks for the great intro – makes me look very smart! Captain Complex? Ha! I still “hate” that name, which is why Pavel calls me that all the time.
We were teaching an RKC in Hungary in 2009 together. It was a big group and we had to use interpreters for our instruction. We were really getting bogged down and had a late start as it was, due to the language barrier. So Pavel asked me for some input in speeding things up or something like that – I either suggested we do some complexes or he did – I can’t remember.
Anyway, for one of the evolutions I had the group do some complexes to re-enforce technique and skill acquisition on the first afternoon. It was a big “a-ha” moment for everyone there and we continued to use them the entire weekend. It shortened the learning curve and overcame the language barrier. (And we still use them today in some of our teaching evolutions at the SFG.)
Then we were in a marketing lecture and Pavel was doodling. He drew a guy flying with a cape and a kettlebell in each hand – think Superman – and he wrote “Captain Complex” over top of it.
He said something like, “Geoff, what do you think – it’s your new nickname” or something like that. The details are a little fuzzy, but I distinctly remember the picture and shaking my head. So that’s where the name Captain Complex came from. Pretty funny really now that I think about it some more.
Chris: Too funny – you in a cape! Speaking of complexes, you have a bit of a history with them that dates back to your own training as a competitive weight lifter. Tell us first about your history with working with complexes as an athlete.
Geoff: Well I started using Chains, which are similar in structure to complexes in 1995 with my first weightlifting coach. A chain is where you group exercises together and then you do one rep of each without putting the bar down – for example, swing, snatch, push press.
They were brutal.
“Hated” every minute of them, but they sure made me strong. Now that I think about it, I used complexes as a warm up for every workout, and didn’t even know it! (Who really counts their warm up?! LOL.) I’d use the bar and do 5 snatches from the hang, 5 overhead squats, and 5 snatch grip behind the neck presses. And I’d do that 3 times.
But like I said, I never paid much attention to it.
So the first real “a-ha” moment with complexes was in 1997 when I read a Muscle and Fitness article (Don’t judge me! Like you never have…) about them from Coach Istvan Javorek, Romanian Super Coach. He used them with his weightlifters and later all his athletes. I was a strength coach at Rutgers at the time so I immediately put them to work with some of the starters on the wrestling team, a little group I’d taken under my wing, so-to-speak. The results were nothing short of astounding. They all leaned out, packed on some muscle, and their usable mat strength and conditioning was off the charts. Been using them ever since. Hard to believe that’s been 16 years now. Seems like just yesterday…
Chris: 16 years? That’s a long time. Most people in our profession only last 3 to 5 years I think. Then they burn out. But back to the complexes: People use complexes, chains and circuits as interchangeable terms. Can you please define exactly what a complex is – the structure, I suppose – and how it differs from a chain or a circuit.
Geoff: Sure. In a complex you first select a series of exercises, say, swing, squat, snatch, push press. Then you select the reps, usually the same reps for all the sets, using a weight based on your weakest lift, then you perform all the reps in the set for each exercise before moving on to the next exercise. So 5 swings, then 5 squats, then 5 snatches, then 5 push presses, all without resting or putting the kettlebell down. Then you rest for a predetermined period of time.
Chains, like I said before, are where you do one rep of each exercise sequentially moving from exercise to exercise, and then repeating the sequence for a prescribed number of reps. Each time you perform the sequence it’s considered one rep. So 1 swing then 1 squat, then 1 snatch, then 1 push press repeated 5 times.
Complexes create more tension in the muscles and more localized fatigue. Great for losing fat and building muscle. Typically you can do a little more total work with chains than complexes because the fatigue is systemic – bodywide, not localized. Also great for fat loss and re-enforcing technique.
Chris: Most trainers just “tack” a complex on to the end of a workout and use it as a way to “close the deal” with their clients or athletes. But you’ve discovered that it’s so much more powerful than just being a fancy form of cardio. Tell us about how you use complexes in your programming.
Geoff: Man, that’s a great point. I see so many complexes used as “finishers,” which is kind of cool. But if you just spend some extra time on the programming end of things, really take your time to understand progressive overload and how adaptation occurs in the body, you can create some amazing results using complexes. That’s the main difference between my complexes and everyone else’s that I’ve seen, including Coach Javorek’s – no disrespect to him. I don’t just have you do the same complex every other day for 6 weeks and call that a program.
And I do more than just change the reps too. I manipulate all the loading variables to create the largest possible stimulus for change and still allow you to recover.
I was fortunate enough to be trained by my weightlifting coach, Alfonso Duran, who really understood program design – he was taught by Alexei Medvedev, the Soviet World Champion Weightlifter, and later Soviet Weightlifting Team Coach. This has enabled me to create “stand alone” programs revolving around complexes – where literally the “only” thing you’re doing is 3 complexes a week – maybe an hour’s worth of workouts – and you’re getting amazing results from your training – Muscle gain, fat loss, conditioning – all of it.
Chris: Back in October of 2012 I heard you use the phrase “waviness of load” when designing a program. Can you explain what that is and how it differs from a traditional strength, fat loss or hypertrophy model of programming.
Geoff: Sure. “Waviness of load” is one of the principles we use in StrongFirst and it was one of the things my coach taught me. Essentially, it’s this: The body adapts quicker with sharp, seemingly random contrasts in load. That’s from Vorobyev’s work. (Also another world champion Soviet weightlifter and later coach.) It’s an advanced form of Progressive Overload. Most programs use some form of standard linear periodization – where progress is incremental. You’ll still get good results, but nowhere near as good in my opinion as using Vorobyev’s principle. That was the best thing I ever learn from my coach and it’s one of the hallmarks of many of my programs, especially my advanced ones.
So bottom line is this: “Waviness of loads” yields faster results.
Chris: Yeah, I remember you demonstrating that when you designed that guy’s program for him in front of the class. Very cool. And it’s in most of your programs, at least the ones I have. Speaking of programming, I see a lot of programs these days try to obliterate the exerciser each and every time out by having people train balls-to-the-wall of the week? What’s your take on this approach?
Geoff: What I’m about to say will be controversial: You can go ballz-to-the-wall for short periods of time, you just have to know how to mitigate the effects of doing so. Unfortunately, 95% of people don’t know how to do that. Take “Kettlebell Muscle” for example. You’re going all out for 12 weeks. Three times a week. But there’s LOTS of recovery built into the program. The people who succeed are the ones who realize that they don’t need to try to outsmart the program.
So as I said, there can be a time and a place for it, you just have to know the time, the place, and the methods for doing so. And as I already said, 95% of people writing programs don’t know any of the three, let alone that those three things exist. Like Pavel says, anyone can make you do 1000 swings. That doesn’t take any skill whatsoever. The key is what we talked about before – “waviness of loads.”
Chris: So, muscle building using complexes…the bodybuilding gods are frowning down upon us in their tiny little slingshot speedos…why do complexes work for hypertrophy?
Geoff: I’m not going to get into the mechanisms behind them, because I don’t know them all and from what I’ve read, the jury’s still out and they can’t agree on them. The bottom line is that the tension, plus excess calories, provokes a hypertrophic response, primarily through the growth hormone and testosterone mechanisms. I once had a bodybuilder – a get up on stage, shaved, and tanned bodybuilder, pack on 30 pounds in 6 weeks using nothing but barbell complexes three days a week. So they work. And they work well.
Chris: Wow! 6 weeks? That’s amazing! Ok, here’s what everybody wants to know: What about fat loss? How effective are complexes for fat loss?
Geoff: Oh very, very effective, especially when you consider the amount of time you have to invest to get the response you’re looking for.
I’ve used complexes with almost all my clients at one stage or another in their training.
One of my clients, a 49 year old female, lost 8% bodyfat in 6 weeks using complexes – twice a week – when mixed with a fat loss diet. That’s just one example. I like to use that one because women, for some reason, automatically think (in most cases) that they need something different from men. Of course, I use complexes in “Kettlebell Burn” as well. The program progresses to them.
If I were pinched for time, or I wanted something simple, or I just didn’t want to invest that much time, energy or thought into my fat loss workouts, complexes would be THE way to go.
Are there other better methods? Yes. But none as simple or as time-efficient – and those two concepts go a long way in today’s over-programmed, over-scheduled, overwhelmed world.
Chris: Yeah, great points. I know EXACTLY what you mean – with 5 kids and two businesses, I don’t have the time or the desire to screw around with my training. Ok, the holy grail of our industry is to be able to structure a program that will get you strong, muscular, lean and fit all at the same time. Got any solutions for that?
Geoff: Well, again, since we’re on the subject, complexes and chains, in the grand scheme of things, quite possibly could be your proverbial “one-stop-shop” for all your physique needs.
You can’t quite use them year round, but, cycling them every 12-24 weeks with lower volume traditional strength programs would get the job done for sure, without much thought or effort on your part.
And shameless plug here – that’s what I’ve done for people in several of my programs – “Kettlebell Express!” and “Kettlebell Express! ULTRA” and in my latest release, “More Kettlebell Muscle” – which is 20 different kettlebell complex programs and 40 programs total when you perform them as chains – about 5 years worth when placed end to end. More than enough to keep anyone satisfied, especially if rapid fat loss is the goal. And, yes, it’ll be available shortly.
Chris: Geoff, thanks for taking the time for this interview and sharing your expertise with us. I know our readers will find it extremely helpful for their training.
Geoff: No, thank you Chris. It was a pleasure. Love talking about this stuff with you – especially the program design – it’s really the key to getting results. Hopefully more people will understand that now that you brought up its importance.